Nonprofits have to perform a difficult operations balancing act. They have to provide a useful service, often one that’s for the public good, but can’t charge too much money. Instead, they often rely on donations and grants.
This contributes to what’s known as the “The Starvation Cycle,” where poorly-funded nonprofits don’t spend enough on overhead to meaningfully grow capacity.
Co.act Detroit hopes to help with this problem. As part of a $5 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, the nonprofit hub officially opened the doors to its 6,500-square-foot space at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Grand Boulevard in rapidly-developing New Center.
Co.act, which occupies the first floor of the Midtown Detroit Inc.–owned building, has a number of well-furnished spaces for organizations to rent. There’s a main flex-space, a communal table, a conference room, and smaller rooms for one-on-ones. The rooms have names like “Peanut Butter Block” and “Bumpy Cake” in reference to the building’s past tenant, a Sanders Candy store.
The space was smartly designed by McIntosh Poris Architects. Doors can slide open or closed to provide a sense of openness or privacy as needed. Walls double as white boards. Many of the rooms are wired for projectors and screens. There’s even two showers to support bike culture.
All those design features are meant to create a sense of comfort, says Co.act Executive Director Allandra Bulger. “What we heard, overwhelmingly, was that nonprofits desire a safe space to try out ideas and share vulnerabilities without being penalized,” she says.
So far this year, during its “soft opening,” the organization hosted meetings and visitors free of charge. For 2019, all the rooms have been and will be usable to regional nonprofits on an in-kind basis. For foundation, corporate, and civic partners, pricing starts at $50 per hour and $300 per day.
The organization says it will revisit its fee structure for 2020.
In addition to renting space, Co.act offers a variety of programming. There’s a conversation series, monthly drop-in work days, weekly workshops, consultations, and more. A main focus area for the organization is to create opportunities for nonprofits to connect for mutual learning.
“We’re working to create more connected, resilient nonprofit community,” Bulger says. “There’s lots of great work happening across the region, but it often happens in silos. We see this space as helping to create greater connection—flipping the silos on their heads to create pipelines.”
Other programming partners include the Michigan Nonprofit Association, Data Driven Detroit, Michigan Community Resources, and NEW: Solutions for Nonprofits. The space is managed by TechTown Detroit.
Co.act had a two-day grand opening on June 26 and 27. The nearly 350 guests who attended each day took tours of the space, heard presentations and panels, and even did a little painting. During the event, the Wilson Foundation announced that it would launch a $1.5 million fund, administered by Co.act, to build nonprofit capacity.